Newington school budget's delicate balance

Published on Friday, 22 February 2019 13:08
Written by Erica Drzewiecki

@drzewieckinbh

NEWINGTON – Developing a spending plan to ensure students in town are “College, Career and Citizenship Ready” is a delicate balancing act, according to school officials.

Newington Public Schools’ vision was just the beginning of interim Superintendent Pamela Muraca’s recent presentation to the Board of Education. Muraca detailed the process that went into developing her 2019-20 budget proposal, which represents a 3.48 percent increase to current spending. Board members are now reviewing and making modifications to the draft plan, which they will present to the Town Council in early March. A final budget will be voted on and a new mill rate set on or around April 16.

The superintendent’s $75.36 million proposal represents the schools’ ever-changing needs, including employee salaries and benefits, programming, building maintenance and state requirements.

“Much of the dollars that are being added to the next year’s budget are things we have made commitments to or are required by law to provide,” Muraca explained. “Our goal is to do what’s right and best for our students while being fiscally responsible for our community.”

Board Chairman Joshua Shulman called the proposed increase “very reasonable.” At this time last year, former superintendent Dr. William Collins projected a 3.96 percent increase, which was ultimately cut to 3.4 percent.

Muraca, the former deputy superintendent who stepped up to fill the chief role after Collins’ departure in July, plans to retire at the end of this school year.

“My goal by that time would be to have an Anna Reynolds renovation committee in place,” she said. “That would be the best gift I could get.”

One of four elementary schools in town, Anna Reynolds is in dire need of renovation. Plans have lagged several years behind other renovations. Building projects are allocated for in the town’s Capital Improvement Fund.

Also included in this year’s budget are two new positions: an English language learning (ESOL) teacher and a reading interventionist/literary coach at the high school level. The number of Newington students who require ESL services is five times what it was in 1999, according to records. Also 20 years ago, special needs students composed less than 1 percent of the total population. Now more than 600 students – almost 15 percent – receive these services.

Special education costs represent the largest budget increase, at 1.14 percent. Salaries and contractual obligations come in a close second, at 1.13 percent over 2018-19. The average union employee’s salary has gone up 2.37 percent.

“This request is one that balances the needs of the students with the community’s ability to pay,” Muraca said of her budget.

BOE Budget review will continue Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. During that meeting, members will consider adopting a budget request to present to the council.

“I hope we can reach a satisfactory conclusion,” Mayor Roy Zartarian said of the coming negotiations.

Every year the two bodies face contractual challenges and the unknown of state mandates, which don’t move forward until well after towns finalize spending.

“We have to keep in mind the town’s grand list rose six-tenths of a percent and we may not see motor vehicle property tax revenue this year,” Zartarian pointed out.

Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or edrzewiecki@centralctcommunications.com.



Posted in Newington Town Crier, Newington News on Friday, 22 February 2019 13:08. Updated: Friday, 22 February 2019 13:11.